CAMP memories

I turned fourteen in May, 1942. It was not a good year for Australia. Singapore had fallen to the Japanese Army. Singapore was the fortress that was supposed to repel any invaders, but the guns were facing out to sea, and the enemy came overland from the North!
As the Japanese advanced south, Australia’s position became more perilous. Our AIF was defending North Africa and elsewhere on the European front, and our prime Minister was forced to defy Churchill and bring our 9th Division home to defend our own threatened shores... after our gallant young Militia were forced to cede the Owen Stanleys to the Japanese army, which was only stopped thirty miles from Port Moresby in New Guinea.
The United States of America came to our aid. The 32nd Infantry Division was diverted from being deployed to Europe, and sent to Australia instead. General MacArthur had his headquarters in Brisbane in the Lennons building, and it was decided to house the troops some thirty miles (50 ks) away in the bushland outside of the little hamlet of Logan Village.
The Civil Construction Company was formed in haste. My father, Harry Wendt, who was an officer in the Army Reserve, was expecting to be called up for army duty. Instead, when it was discovered that he was now a builder, he was drafted into the CCC and sent to help build the camp that was to be known as Camp Cable.
This was ironic, because Harry’s grandparents were among the first settlers to this area in 1863. They farmed the land across the Logan River from Logan Village, at Chambers Flat, which dairy farm is still operating under the ownership of my second cousin, Ivan Wendt. Harry went to school at Logan Village, as did his father Hermann, and his children Joan and Doreen. Inherited from his parents, Harry and his family lived at Buccan, on a dairy farm, three miles (5ks) from the Village of Logan.
A year or so prior to WWII, Harry had made the big decision to leave the farm. The Great Depression had taken its toll on farmers; times were tough. He took his young family to Brisbane to try his luck, and ended up in the building industry in which he was eminently suited, having built many a farm building.
Dad would come home every two weeks, for the weekend. He took the family car, a little Vauxhall, with him to the camp. Each visit, he would bring as well, two of his new found American friends. We had no spare beds, so a couple of stretchers would be assembled on the enclosed verandah for the boys, as we called them, although they were usually older men of almost thirty (!!!) My mother fed them well, and they would go to town on the only night, Saturday, to a dance maybe, or to the movies.
There was a Catholic Church on the corner of our street, and some of the boys would attend on a Sunday morning. I remember one, Blackie, who told us of his embarrassment at only having a ‘fiver’ for the collection plate. It was all he had, so he put it in but helped himself to change from the silver already in the plate!
My father did not talk much about what they were building at the camp, but I understand it was a huge tent city, with buildings for the hospital, administration, PX and latrines, and the like. It must have been pretty basic. But with 35 thousand troops, there would have been quite a few structures to erect.
My cousins, Oscar and Agnes Stegemann, who farmed their dairy property a mile or so from the siding at Buccan, (up what is now Stegemann Road) made good friends of some of the soldiers who enjoyed their time off in the homely atmosphere of their property. A lot of the men had come from rural areas in Wisconsin, and felt at home in a farm setting. Once, they were surprised by a visit from the General (Eikleberger?) to their farm...just a reconnoitre...
In 1933, the farmers of the district (including my father and grandfather) had built with voluntary labour, the local Dance Hall. There was a piano on the stage. It was wartime, so not too many dances were held, with most of the men away on active service. However, one of the American soldiers requested that he be allowed to play the piano...just for his own times. This was put to the LV Hall Committee and approved, and one lonely fellow was made a little happier on the odd occasion.
A new industry came to Logan Village during the years of American occupancy. The men needed their uniforms laundered, and the local women were pleased to perform this task for a small remittance. There were a few romances also, but not too many, as most of the young, single girls had become part of the war effort and were in the city working as post-women, tram conductresses and the like.
Two of the regulars who came home with Dad were Buster and Buddy, the former from California, the latter from New York. They were mates, both from the 126th Infantry Regiment, and became like members of our family. We were dismayed when they were sent to New Guinea. We only received one letter from Buster, and you could tell he was not a good letter writer. Some months later, I came home from the Girls Grammar School to find this thin, weary, Atebrin-stained soldier having a cuppa’ with my mother. It was Buster, who had gone absent-without-leave, who had been sent back from the front to the camp hospital, suffering from malaria! My mother gave him a good dinner and he told us that Buddy had lost an arm in the fighting, and had been sent home. Some friends took Buster back to camp where he recovered and was eventually sent back to New Guinea. The 32nd Division took part in the Buna campaign, with our 9th Division, pushing the Japanese back. We did not see him again.
When Camp Cable was finally completed, my father was sent to Wallangarra to help in the construction of yet another army camp. He had the Vauxhall, but petrol was rationed and it was a long way from home. We saw him rarely, but one time my mother managed to get a seat on a train, and made a weekend visit to her man, taking lamingtons and little iced cakes, his favourites.
We should never forget the men of the Red Arrow 32nd Division, some of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice to save our country, and who lived for a time at Camp Cable. ‘They passed this way.’

Doreen Wendt-Weir